« PreviousContinue »
to sigh, and shiver, and quake, as much from mistress of Lord Surrey, was yet sufficiently dread of an overturn as from damp and chilli- picturesque, and in excellent keeping with the ness, whilst my careful driver and his saga- surrounding scene. cious steed went on groping their way through It was a robust, sturdy, old man, his long the woody lanes that lead to the Loddon. grey hair appearing between his well-worn Nothing but the fear of confessing my fear, hat and his warm but weather-beaten coat, that feeling which makes so many cowards with a large package at his back, covered with brave, prevented me from begging to turn back oilskin, a bundle of short regular poles in one again. On, however, we went, the fog be- hand, and a large bunch of thistles in the coming every moment heavier as we ap- other; and even before Mayflower, who now proached that beautiful and brimming river, made her appearance, and was endeavouring which always, even in the midst of summer, to satisfy her curiosity by pawing and poking brings with it such images of coolness and the knapsack, thereby awakening the noisy freshness as haunt the fancy after reading fears of two call-birds, who, together with a Undine; and where on the present occasion large bird-net, formed its contents,- before we seemed literally to breathe water-as Dr. this audible testimony of his vocation, or the Clarke said in passing the Danube. My com- still stronger assuranco of his hearty goodpanion, nevertheless, continued to assure me humoured visage, my companion, himself that the day would clear--nay, that it was somewhat of an amateur in the art, had recogalready clearing: and I soon found that he nised his friend and acquaintance Old Robin, was right. As we left the river, we seemed the bird-catcher of B. to leave the fog; and before we had reached We soon overtook the old man, and after
almost disappeared ; and I began to lose at who, by the way, seemed sufficiently disposed once my silent fears and my shivering chilli- to renew the assault, we proceeded at the ness, and to resume my cheerfulness and my same slow pace up the hill, holding disjointed admiration.
chat on the badness of the weather these foggy It was curious to observe how object after mornings, and the little chance there was of
the huge oak, at the corner of Farmer Locke's afternoon. To which Robin gave a doleful field, which juts out into the lane like a crag assent. He was, however, going, he said, to into the sea, forcing the road to wind around try for a few linnets on the common beyond it, stood like a hoary giant, with its head lost the Great House, and was in hopes to get a in the clouds; then Farmer Hewitt's great couple of woodlarks from the plantations. He barn-the house, ricks, and stables still invisi- / wanted the woodlarks, above all things, for ble; then a gate, and half a cow, her head Mrs. Bennett, the alderman's lady of B., being projected over it in strong relief, whilst whose husband had left the old shop in the the hinder part of her body remained in the Market-place, and built a fine white cottage haze; then more and more distinctly, hedge- just beyond the turnpike-gate-so madam had rows, cottages, trees and fields, until, as we set her heart on a couple of woodlarks, to reached the top of Barkham Hill, the glorious hang up in her new shrubbery and make the sun broke forth, and the lovely picture lay place look rural. before our eyes in its soft and calm beauty, “Hang up, Robin! Why there is not a emerging gradually from the vapour that over-tree a foot high in the whole plantation ! hung it, in such a manner as the image of his Woodlarks! Why they 'll be dead before sleeping Geraldine is said to have been re- Christmas." vealed to Surrey in the magic glass. A beau- “ That's sure enough, your honour," retiful picture it forms at all times, that valley joined Robin. of Barkham. Fancy a road winding down a "A soft-billed bird, that requires as much hill between high banks, richly studded with care as a nightingale !" continued my compahuge forest trees, oak and beech, to a sparkling nion. “By the way, Robin, have you any stream, with a foot-bridge thrown across, nightingales now?"" which runs gurgling along the bottom; then ( Two, sir; a hen " turning abruptly, and ascending the opposite "A hen! That's something remarkable !" hill, whilst the rich plantations and old paling “A great curiosity, sir; for your honour of a great park “ come cranking in " on one knows that we always set the trap for nightside, and two or three irregular cottages go ingales by ear like; the creature is so shy that straggling up on the other; the whole bathed one can seldom see it, so one is forced to put in the dewy sunshine, and glowing with the the mealworm near where one hears the song; vivid colouring of autumn. The picture had, and it's the most uncommon thing that can at the moment of which I speak, an additional be to catch a hen; but I have one, and a fine interest, by presenting to our eyes the first cock too, that I caught last spring just afore human being whom we had seen during our building time. Two as healthy birds as ever drive (we had heard several); one, too, who were seen." although he bore little resemblance to the fair! “Is the cock in song still ?"
"Ay, sir, in full song; piping away, jug, on his favourite subject without catching a jug, jug, all the day, and half the night. I little of his contagious enthusiasm. His room wish your honour would come and hear it." is quite a menagerie, something like what the And, with a promise to that effect, we parted, feathered department of the ark must have each our several ways; we to visit our friend, been—as crowded, as numerous, and as noisy. he to catch, if catch he could, a couple of The din is really astounding. To say no. woodlarks to make Mrs. Bennett's villa look thing of the twitter of whole legions of linnets, rural.
goldfinches, and canaries, the latter of all Old Robin had not always been a bird- ages; the clattering and piping of magpies, catcher. He had, what is called, fallen in parrots, jackdaws, and bullfinches, in every the world. His father had been the best-ac- stage of their education ; the deeper tones of customed and most fashionable shoemaker in blackbirds, thrushes, larks, and nightingales, the town of B., and Robin succeeded, in right never fail to swell the chorus, aided by the of eldership, to his house, his business, his cooing of doves, the screeching of owls, the customers, and his debts. No one was ever squeakings of guinea-pigs, and the eternal less fitted for the craft. Birds had been his grinding of a barrel-organ, which a little dampassion from the time that he could find a nest sel of eight years old, who officiates under or string an egg: and the amusement of the Robin as feeder and cleaner, turns round, with boy became the pursuit of the man. No melancholy monotony, to the loyal and patri. sooner was he his own master than his whole otic tunes of Rule Britannia and God save the house became an aviary, and his whole time King, the only airs, as her master observes, was devoted to breeding, taming, and teaching which are sure not to go out of fashion. I the feathered race; an employment that did Except this young damsel and her music, not greatly serve to promote his success as a the apartment exhibits but few signs of human cordwainer. He married; and an extravagant habitation. A macaw is perched on the little wife, and a neglected, and, therefore, unpros- table, and a cockatoo chained to the only chair; perous business, drove him more and more the roof is tenanted by a choice breed of tuminto the society of the pretty creatures, whose bler pigeons, and the floor cumbered by a brood company he had always so greatly preferred of curious bantams, unrivalled for ugliness. to that of the two-legged unfeathered animal, Here Robin dwells, in the midst of the feacalled man. Things grew worse and worse; thered population, except when he sallies forth and at length poor Robin appeared in the at morning or evening to spread his nets for Gazette-ruined, as his wife and his customers goldfinches or bullfinches on the neighbouring said, by birds: or, as he himself said, by his commons, or to place his trap-cages for the customers and his wife. Perhaps there was larger birds. Once or twice a year, indeed, some truth on either side; at least, a thousand he wanders into Oxfordshire, to meet the great pounds of bad debts on his books, and a whole flocks of linnets, six or seven hundred together, pile of milliners and mantuamakers' bills, went which congregate on those hills, and may be nigh to prove the correctness of his assertion. taken by dozens; and he has had ambitious Ruined, however, he was; and a happy day thoughts of trying the great market of Coventit was for him, since, his stock being sold, his garden for the sale of his live stock. But in customers gone, and his prospects in trade general he remains quietly at home. That fairly at an end, his wife (they had no family) nest in the Soak is too precious a deposit to deserted him also, and Robin, thus left a free leave long; and he is seldom without some man, determined to follow the bent of his ge- especial favourite to tend and fondle. At prenius, and devote the remainder of his life to sent, the hen-nightingale seems his pet; the
For this purpose he hired an apartment in a whole brood of gorgeous kingfishers, seven the ruinous quarter of B. called the Soak, a glorious creatures, for whose behoof he took high, spacious attic, not unlike a barn, which up a new trade and turned fisherman, dabbling came recommended to him by its cheapness, all day with a hand-net in the waters of the its airiness, and its extensive cage-room; and Soak. It was the prettiest sight in the world his creditors having liberally presented him to see them snatch the minnows from his hand, with all the inhabitants of his aviary, some of with a shy mistrustful tameness, glancing their which were very rare and curious, as well as bright heads from side to side, and then darta large assortment of cages, nets, traps, and ing off like bits of the rainbow. I had an seeds, he began his new business with great entire sympathy with Robin's delight in his spirit, and has continued it ever since with kingfishers. He sold them to his chief pavarious success, but with unabating perseve-tron, Mr. Jay, a little fidgety old bachelor, rance, zeal, and good-humour - a very poor with a sharp face, a hooked nose, a brown and a very happy man. His garret in the complexion, and a full suit of snuff-colour, Soak is one of the boasts of B.; all strangers not much uplike a bird himself; and that go to see the birds and the bird-catcher, and worthy gentleman's mismanagement and a most of his visiters are induced to become frosty winter killed the kingfishers every one. purchasers, for there is no talking with Robin / It was quite affecting to hear poor Robin talk
of their death. But Robin has store of tender the zest of a repartee, that most evanescent anecdotes; and any one who has a mind to and least transfusible of all things; and when cry over the sorrows of a widowed turtle-dove, she uttered her pretty petition, « Mirth, admit and to hear described to the life her vermilion- me of thy crew !” brought as ready a comeye, black gorget, soft plumage, and plaintive prehension, as true a spirit of gaiety, and as note, cannot do better than pay a visit to the much innocent enjoyment into a young and garret in the Soak, and listen for half an hour laughing circle, as she found there. Her reto my friend the bird-catcher.
liance on the kindness and affection of all around her was unbounded; she judged of others by herself, and was quite free from mistrust and jealousy, the commonest and
least endurable infirmity of the deaf. She MY GODMOTHERS. went out little, but at home her hospitality
and benevolence won all hearts. She was a Of one of my godmothers I recollect but most sweet person. I saw too little of her, little. She lived at a distance, and seldom and lost her too soon; but I loved her dearly, came in my way. The little, however, that I and still cherish her memory. do remember of her, is very pleasing. She Her husband was a very kind and genial was the wife of a dignified clergyman, and person also, although in a different way. The resided chiefly in a great cathedral town, to Dean, for such was his professional rank, was which I once or twice accompanied my father, a great scholar, an eminent Grecian, a laborious whose near relation she had married. She editor, a profound and judicious critic, an acute was a middle-aged woman, with sons and and sagacious commentator—who passed days daughters already settled in life, and must in and nights in his library, covered with learned her youth have been exceedingly lovely; in- dust, and deep in the metres. Out of his deed, in spite of an increase of size which study he was, as your celebrated scholar is had greatly injured her figure, she might still apt to be, exceedingly like a boy just let loose be deemed a model of matronly beauty. Her from school, wild with animal spirits, and face was in the highest degree soft, feminine, ripe for a frolic. He was also another not and delicate, with an extreme purity and fair- uncommon characteristic of an eminent Greness of complexion; dove-like eyes, a gentle cian) the most simple-hearted and easy-temsmile, and a general complacency and benevo-pered creature that lived, and a most capital lence of aspect, such as I have rarely seen playfellow. I thought no more of stealing equalled. That sweet face was all sunshine. the wig from his head than a sparrow does of 1 There was something in her look which real. robbing a cherry-tree; and he, merriest and ized the fine expression of the poet, when he most undignified of dignitaries, enjoyed the speaks of
fun as much as I did, would toss the magnifithose eyes affectionate and glad,
cent caxon (a full-bottomed periwig of most That seem'd to love whate'er they looked upon.” capacious dimensions,) as high in the air as
its own gravity would permit it to ascend, to Her voice and manner were equally delight the unspeakable waste of powder, and then ful, equally captivating, although quite re-would snatch me up in his arms, (a puny child moved from any of the usual arts of captiva- of eight years old, who was as a doh in his tion. Their great charm was their perfect art- sinewy hands, and threaten to fling me after lessness and graciousness, the natural result his flying peruke. He would have done just of a most artless and gracious nature. She the same if he had been Archbishop of Cankept little company, being so deaf as almost terbury-and so should I-the arch-episcopal to unfit her for society. But this infirmity, wig would have shared the same fate; so which to most people is so great a disadvan- completely did the joyous temperament of the tage, seemed in her case only an added charm. man break down the artificial restraints of his She sat on her sofa in sober cheerfulness, situation. He was a most loveable person placid and smiling, as if removed from the was Mr. Dean; but the charm and glory of cares and the din of the work-a-day world; the Deanery, was my dear godmamma. or, if any thing particularly interesting was My other godmother was a very different going forward in the apartment, she would sort of person, and will take many more words look up with such a pretty air of appeal, such to describe. silent questioning, as made every body eager Mrs. Patience Wither (for so was she called) to translate for her, some by loud distinct was the survivor of three maiden sisters, who, speech, some by writing, and some by that on the death of their father, a rich and welldelicate and mysterious sign-manual, that un- descended country gentleman, had agreed to | written shorthand, called talking on the fingers, live together, and their united portions having whatever happened to be passing; and she centred in her, she was in possession of a was so attentive and so quick, that one sen- handsome fortune. In point of fact, she was tence, half a sentence, a word, half a word, not my godmother, having only stood as proxy would often be enough. She could catch even for her younger sister, Mrs. Mary, my mother's intimate friend, then falling into the lingering of her youth! But bribery is generally thrown decline, of which she afterwards died. Mrs. away upon children, especially on spoilt ones; Mary must have been, to judge of her from the godmother whom I loved never gave me universal report, and from a portrait which any thing; and every fresh present from Mrs. still remains, a most interesting woman, droop- Patience seemed to me a fresh grievance. I ing, pale, and mild; and beautiful also, very was obliged to make a call and a curtsy, and beautiful, from elegance and expression. She to stammer out something which passed for a was undoubtedly my real godmamma; but on speech ; or, which was still worse, to write a her death, Mrs. Patience, partly from regard letter of thanks-a stiff, formal, precise letter! for her sister, partly out of compliment to my I would rather have gone without cakes or family, and partly, perhaps, to solace herself needle-cases, books or battledores, to my dying by the exercise of an office of some slight day. Such was my ingratitude from five to importance and authority, was pleased to lay fifteen. claim to me in right of inheritance, and suc- As time wore on, however, I amended. I ceeded to the title of my godmother pretty began to see the value of constant interest and much in the same way that she succeeded to attention-even although the forms they asthe possession of Flora, her poor sister's fa- sumed might not be the most pleasant-to be vourite spaniel. I am afraid that Flora proved thankful for her kindness and attentive to her the more grateful subject of the two.
advice; and by the time I arrived at years of Mrs. Patience was of the sort of women discretion, had got to like her very much, esthat young people particularly dislike, and pecially in her absence, and to endure her precharacterize by the ominous epithet, cross. She sence (when it was quite impossible to run was worse than cross; stern, stiff, domineer- away) with sufficient fortitude. It is only ing, and authoritative, her person was very since she has been fairly dead and buried, that masculine, tall, square, and large-boned, and I have learnt to estimate her properly. Now, remarkably upright. Her features were suf. I recollect how very worthy of esteem and ficiently regular, and would not have been un- respect she really was, how pious, how hospleasing, but for the keen angry look of her pitable, how charitable, how generous! Nolight-blue eye, (your blue eye, which has such thing but the comfort of knowing that she a name for softness amongst those great mis- never found it out, could lull my remorse for takers, lovers and poets, is often wild, and al- having disliked her so much in her life-time: most fierce in its expression) and her fiery the more especially, as upon recollection, Il wiry red hair, to which age did no good, it don't think she was so absolutely unbearable. would not turn grey. In short she was, being She was only a little prejudiced, as one who always expensively drest, and a good deal in had lived constantly in one limited sphere; the rear of fashion, not unlike my childish rather ignorant and narrow-minded, a full cennotion of that famous but disagreeable person- tury behind the spirit of the age, as one who age, Queen Elizabeth; which comparison had read dull books and kept dull company; being repeated to Mrs. Patience, who luckily fearfully irritable, fretful, and cross, as one took it for a compliment, added considerably who has had all her life the great misfortune to the interest she was so good as to take in (seldom enough pitied or considered) of having my health, welfare, and improvement. her own way; and superlatively stiff, and
I never saw her but she took possession of starched, and prim, in her quality of old maid. me for the purpose of lecturing and document. There is a great improvement now-a-days in ing on some subject or other,--holding up my the matter of single ladies; they may be, and head, shutting the door, working a sampler, many of them actually are, pleasant with immaking a shirt, learning the pence-table, or punity to man or woman, and are so like the taking physic. She used to hear me read rest of the world in way and word, that a French out of a well-thumbed copy of Tele-stranger is forced to examine the third finger maque, and to puzzle me with questions from of the left hand, to ascertain whether or no the English chronology-which may perhaps they be married; but Mrs. Patience was an be the reason, that I, at this day, to my great old maid of the old school-there was no misshame be it spoken, dislike that famous prose taking her condition-you might as well ques. epic, and do not know in what century Queen tion that of the frost-bitten gentlewoman pacAnne came to the throne.
ing to church through the snow in Hogarth's In addition to these iniquities, she was as-inimitable and unforgetable “Morning." With siduous in presents to me at home and at these drawbacks she was, as I have said beschool; sent me cakes with cautions against fore, an estimable person; stanch in her friend over-eating, and needle-cases with admonitions ships, liberal in her house-keeping, much adto use them; she made over to me her own dicted to all sorts of subscriptions, and a most juvenile library, consisting of a large collec- active lecturer and benefactress of the poor, tion of unreadable books, which I, in my turn, whom she scolded and relieved with indefatihave given away; nay, she even rummaged gable good-will. out for me a pair of old battledores, curiously She lived in a large, tall, upright, stately constructed of netted pack-thread--the toys house, in the largest street of a large town.
It was a grave-looking mansion, defended | encountered them. But then, as the fishfrom the pavement by iron palisades, a flight monger said of the eels that he was skinning, of steps before the sober brown door, and -" They were used to it.” every window curtained and blinded by chintz The only things in the house which she and silk and muslin, crossing and jostling each did not scold were two favourite dogs-Flora, other; none of the rooms could be seen from a fat, lazy, old spaniel, soft and round as a the street, nor the street from any of the cushion, and almost as inert; and Daphne, a rooms-so complete was the obscurity. She particularly ugly, noisy pug, that barked at seemed to consider this window-veiling as a every body that came into the house, and bit I point of propriety; notwithstanding which, at most. Daphne was the pet par excellence. , she contrived to know so well all the goings- She overcrowed even her mistress, as old on of all her neighbours, and who went up or Spenser hath it, and Mrs. Patience respected who went down Chapel Street, that I could her accordingly. Really, comparing the size not help suspecting she had in some one of her of the animal with the astonishing loudness many muffling draperies a sort of peep-hole, and continuance of her din, she performed such as you sometimes see a face staring prodigies of barking. Her society was a through in the green curtain at the play-house. great resource to me, when I was taken to I am sure she must have had a contrivance of pay my respects to my godmamma. She (I the kind, though I cannot absolutely say that mean Daphne) had, after her surly and snipI ever made out the actual slit; but then I was snap manner, a kindness for me; condescendcautious in my pryings, and afraid of being ed to let me pat her head without much caught. I am sure that a peep-hole there was. growling, and would even take a piece of cake
She lived in a good position for an observa- out of my hand without biting my fingers. tory too, her house being situate in a great We were great friends. Daphne's company thoroughfare, one end abutting on a popular and conversation lightened the time amazingly. chapel, the other on a celebrated dancing. She was certainly the most entertaining peracademy, so that every day in the week son, the most alive of any one I met there. brought affluence of carriages to the one side Mrs. Patience's coterie was, to say the or to the other ;-an influx of amusement of truth, rather select than numerous, rather rewhich she did not fail to make the most, en- spectable than amusing. It consisted of about
joying it first, and complaining of it after-half a dozen elderly ladies of unexceptionwards, after the fashion of those unfortunate able quality, and one unfortunate gentleman, persons who have a love of grumbling, and who met to play a rubber at each other's very little to grumble at. I don't know what houses, about six evenings in the week, all
afforded by her noisy neighbours, especially nearly every morning. The chief member of those on the saltatory side, whose fiddles, this chosen society was, next to Mrs. Patience, door-knockings, and floor-shakings, were the who would everywhere be first, Lady Jane, subject of perpetual objurgation; for the usual a widow, and Miss Pym, her maiden sister, complaining ground of the prosperous, health who resided with her. Lady Jane was a and nerves, was completely shut against her. round, quiet, sleepy woman, not unlike She never was ill in her life, and was too with reverence be it spoken to the fat spaniel much in the habit of abusing nerves in other Flora ; you never knew when she was present people, to venture to make use of them on her or when she was not ; Miss Pym, sharper own account. It was a most comfortable and brisker, thinner and shorter, bore more grievance, and completed the many conveni- resemblance to my friend Daphne, the vixenences of her commodious mansion.
ish pug—you were pretty sure to hear her. Her establishment was handsome and regu- | There was also a grave and sedate Mrs. Long, lar, and would have gone on like clock-work, a slow, safe, circumspect person, who talked if she had not thought a due portion of man of the weather; a Mrs. Harden, speechifying aging, that is to say, of vituperation, abso- and civil, and a Miss Harden, her daughter, lutely necessary for the well-being of herself civiller still. These were the ladies. The and servants. It did go on like clock-work, beau of the party, Mr. Knight, had been for the well-seasoned domestics no more originally admitted in right of a deceased minded those diurnal scolding fits, than they wife, and was retained on his own merits. did the great Japan time-piece in the hall | In my life I never beheld a man so hideously when it struck the hour; a ring of the bell, ugly, tall, shambling, and disjointed, with or a knock at the door, were events much features rough, huge, and wooden, grey hair, more startling to this staid and sober house- stiff and bristly, long shaggy eyebrows, a hold, who, chosen, the men for their age, and skin like a hide, and a voice and address quite the women for their ugliness, always seemed in keeping with this amiable exterior, as unto have a peculiar hatred to quick motion. couth as Caliban. They would not even run to get out of the For these gifts and accomplishments he was way of their mistress, although pretty sure undoubtedly preferred to the honour of being of a lecture, right or wrong, whenever she I the only gentleman tolerated in this worship